5 May 2017:
High tobacco excise taxes helped cut smoking prevalence among Filipino adults by 5.9 percent in 2015, according to the results of the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) released Friday.
Dr. Encarnita Blanco-Limpin, Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) executive director, said at press briefing that high taxes have been a “great discouragement” to consumers surveyed for the second GATS.
“The price, actually, even in other countries, it has been shown that really tax measure is the most effective measure that we can implement to reduce tobacco use,” Limpin said.
“Sa mga mahihirap, if they don’t have enough money to spend, then they would rather na they placed the money to the more important needs of the family: food, education, children, yung clothing, instead of buying cigarettes.”
Tobacco use dropped from 29.7 percent in 2009, the first time GATS was conducted, to 23.8 percent in 2015.
About 55.5 percent of current (daily and less than daily) smokers attempted to quit smoking in the past 12 months because of the cost of cigarettes, which can run them P678.4 a month, the survey also said.
Of those who smoked in the past 12 months, four percent managed to successfully quit; 76.7 percent planned to or were thinking about quitting; and 56.5 percent who visited a healthcare provider were advised to quit.
Higher taxes, no public smoking
Among the policies that helped reduce tobacco use is the Sin Tax Reform Law of 2012, which restructured the excise tax on alcohol and tobacco products and marked up their retail prices.
“Because of the sin taxes, since it has really provided much impact on how much money will be consumed just to buy for the cigarettes,” Health Assistant Secretary Dr. Maria Francia Laxamana said.
The strict implementation of the policy prohibiting smoking in government buildings except for designated smoking areas and public places were also given significant heft.
“Let us not also remove the impact of the efforts on the drive against smoking in public places because we have actually shown in this particular study, in this survey, that there was significant reduction also in exposure to second-hand smoke which means to say that the drive against smoking in public place is also working very well,” Limpin stressed.
More investment into counter advertising such as warning labels on cigarette packages, anti-cigarette smoking commercials, and posters also encouraged smokers to quit tobacco.
The number of adults who noticed anti-smoking information on any media is up 83.2 percent; those who noticed posters are up 57.9 percent; and those who heard radio counter commercials go up to 39.1 percent.
While the full effects of cigarette warning labels could not yet be ascertained, as it was only put into full effect in November 2016, 44.6 percent current smokers thought about quitting because of warning labels on cigarette packages.
“The fear factor was there when we showed the messages to the communities, to our areas here in the different regions of the country, even in our airports, seaports, we have a lot of messages there that conveys the fear factor of continuing smoking,” Laxamana said.
“It has provided the greatest impact of change in the behavior.”
Secondhand smoke, advertising still high
While smoking rates have dropped, a large number of adults remain exposed to secondhand smoke and advertising by the tobacco industry.
Secondhand smoke exposure is greatest at home at 34 percent (39 percent men and 30.3 percent women) and at work at 21.5 percent (26.4 percent men and 16.4 women), the report said.
Bars and nightclubs remain the biggest culprit of secondhand smoke exposure in public at 86.3 percent, followed by public transportation at 37.6 percent, and restaurants at 21.9 percent.
Meanwhile, 58.6 percent of adults noticed sponsorship or promotion of cigarettes, with 44 percent spotting them in stores and 9.6 percent seeing them on clothing or other items with cigarette brand names or logos.
Comprehensive ban should be next
While the reduction has been significant, Limpin said a comprehensive ban in tobacco advertising should be the next step in reducing the public’s exposure to tobacco.
“We have to push for maybe a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship because right now, we can still see a lot of advertisement, particularly in the stores and this is clearly shown in the data,” Limpin said.
Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial said they will also push for plain packaging and banning of “tingi” or selling of individual cigarette sticks to secure 100 percent smoke-free public spaces.
“Right now, it’s not total, there is still some advertisement at the point of sale. Also, we’re moving for plain packaging of the cigarette or tobacco products. I hope that would also further reduce the consumption of tobacco,” Ubial said.
Ubial and World Health Organization Technical Officer Dr. Benjamin Lane are also pushing for a unitary tax instead of the tiered tax system envisioned for tobacco and alcohol to protect Filipinos.
“The WHO does not support a two-tier, we do not think it is a good idea. A single tier tax, as planned by the government of the Philippines, as was supposed to take effect in January of this year, that is the way to go,” Lane said.
“It’s actually very fair on poor people because it protects them more. It needs to be a single tier in order that people do not substitute away to local, cheaper brands and smoke the same amount or even more; and in order that the people who are poor are given the same level of protection as everybody else,” he continued.
Lastly, Limpin campaigned for a national smoking cessation program to give current smokers the means to completely cease their consumption of tobacco.
“From the data we have seen that there is a very high number of smokers who are interested in quitting; many of them started to quit but a majority of them were not able to successfully quit,” Limpin said.
“We need to have a more comprehensive smoking cessation program, not just a brief tobacco intervention but we need to really have the intensive smoking cessation program which, I believe, the Department of Health is already going to start with within the year,” she continued.
GATS 2015 had a sample size of 13,963 households and had a 95.6 percent household response rate while 11,644 individuals surveyed had a 96.3 percent response rate, amounting to an overall response rate of 92.1 percent.
Persons aged 15 and above were surveyed by the Philippine Statistics Authority in coordination with the DOH. —KBK, GMA News